Decades ago, Einstein predicted the existence of something he did not believe in – black holes. Since then, people have been trying to see these collapsed stars, which represent the limits of our understanding of physics.
For the past 25 years, Andrea Gez has targeted the black hole at the center of our galaxy known as Sagittarius A *, trying to prove it. In the first days, her proposal was completely rejected. Then she began to brag about it. Andrea won the MacArthur Fellowship in 2008. In 2012, she was the first woman to receive the Crafoord Award from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Andrea has now become the fourth woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for her discovery. She shares the award with Roger Penrose and Reinhard Genzel for discoveries related to black holes. UCLA has published its kind reaction to becoming a Nobel laureate.
A star was born
Andrea Mia Gez was born on June 16, 1965 in New York, but grew up in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. Her love of astronomy was launched along with the Apollo program. After seeing the moon landing, she told her parents that she wanted to be the first female astronaut. They bought her a telescope and she has been looking into the eyes of the stars ever since. Andrea now visits the Keck telescopes – the world’s largest – six times a year.
Andrea was always interested in the rise of mathematics and science, and could usually be found asking big questions about the universe. She earned a bachelor’s degree from MIT in 1987 and a doctorate from Caltech in 1992. While still in graduate school, she made a great discovery about star formation – that most stars are born with a satellite star. After graduating from Caltech, Andrea became a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA to gain access to the Keck Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
The center of the galaxy
Since 1995, Andrea has aimed the Keck telescopes at the center of our galaxy, about 25,000 light-years away. There is a lot of gas and dust that obscures the view, so she and her team had to be creative with something called adaptive optics. This method works by deforming the telescope’s mirror in real time to overcome atmospheric fluctuations.
Thanks to the adaptive optics, Andrea and her team were able to capture images that were 10-30 times clearer than what was possible before. By studying the orbits of stars that hang near the center, she was able to determine that there must lie a supermassive black hole with four million times the mass of the sun. Thanks to this hacker telescope, Andrea and other scientists will be able to study the effects of black holes on gravity and galaxies right here at home. You can watch her briefly explain her work in the video after the break. Congratulations, Dr. Gez, and here’s another 25 years of fruitful research.